Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Taíno Origins: Influence on the Naming of "California", et al

*California (kal-e-for-ni'-ya)

(El Dorado, the Fountain of Youth and the Taíno Myths) 

     *Note: This is an excerpt from Michael Auld's manuscript "Good Gifts from Noble People: Impact of the Taíno and Carib Cultures on the Millennia"

The impact of  pivotal Caribbean stories, first heard from the Taino by outsiders in the 15th century had more impact on the shared history of our hemisphere than has been written about. One story is the Guahayona Epic, an ancient Caribbean tale that introduced the concept of an Island of Women and an Island of Gold. The spin-off was the naming of California, the Amazon and the fateful search in the Americas for Las Siete Ciudedas de Oro (the Seven Cities of Gold).

Guahayona and the Island of La California (left) as it was seen by Cortez and 16th Century mapmakers.The gold image of Atabey, the Taino goddess of childbirth, here represents  Matinino, in Guahayona's travel to the Island of Women. (Silkscreen print by Michael Auld).

. The name of a fabled island in the story, “Las Sergasde Esplandian” (The Deeds of Esplandian) (Seville: 1510). 2. From the Greek words kalli (beautiful) and ornis (bird). 3. The name given to the California Mountains by Hernán Cortés. 4. The Spanish American name for the Pacific territory in New Spain. 5. Pacific coast state admitted in 1850 to the United States of America.
 Hernán Cortés, the ill reputed "conqueror of the Aztecs", is credited with the naming of the territory now called California. It is said that after the conquest of the Mexica (Me-she-ka, or Aztecs of Mexico), he saw the California Mountains while in Baja California. It is stated that upon seeing the mountains he called it the "Island of the Califa" (or the "Island of Queen Califia"). To him the distant mountain appeared to be like the mythical island from the most successful printed romantic novel of 16th century Spain. The story about the mythical island was in Las Sergas de Esplandian which was a sequel to Amadis de Gaula. Sixteenth century Spanish explorers were enamored with romantic stories of that era and were prone to rename places with terms from these European fables. Why did Cortez think that this mountain was the famed island of California.

 Hernán Cortés was just a lad of around 8 years when Columbus first landed in the Caribbean. By 1498 Fray Ramon Pane had completed a report on Taíno myths and customs in Hispaniola as mandated by Christopher Columbus. It is very likely that Taíno myths of an island of gold was known by many Spaniards in the Caribbean. In 1506 at age 22 Cortés arrived in Haiti (Hispaniola) which was the center of operations for the expanding Spanish American empire. It has been stated that Cortez was of the "Generation 1500" who strongly believed the Americas was the land of their fantasies.

In 1448 the goldsmith Johann Gutenberg and his financial partner Johann Fust set up their first printing shop in Mainz. Soon after this historic event the duplicating of books and their ownership was no longer in the sole ownership of the Church or a local Prince. By 1500 there were about 10 million books in Europe with editions on many subjects. This printing revolution gave rise to the popularization of the romance novel. Many Europeans, some who became conquistadors, read the works of Spanish writer Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo who wrote the novel Amadis de Gaul and its sequel Las Sergas de Espaladian. It was in this sequel of the exploits of  Esplandian that the name "California" was coined. Many Europeans were bombarded with the [1]"works by Sir John Mandeville (and Ordonez) about men with two heads, Amazons, and the Fountain of Eternal Youth which would revive the fading sexual powers of elderly men, and which even rational people would expect to find in the Americas beyond the next cape." Years earlier (1492) the seductive beauty of the pristine Caribbean appeared to be like Eden to the arriving Spanish seamen. Did the 1492 to 1510 exploits of Christopher Columbus and his "discovery" of exotic flora and fauna, attractive nude and semi-nude brown skinned people appeal to the fantasies already in the male European mind? It is also highly probable that within days of his arrival in the Caribbean segments of the Taíno Origin Myths were told to Columbus. In 1492 Columbus recorded key elements of this Taíno myth about a Caribbean island of women and another of solid gold. Among Columbus' first insistent queries to the Taínos concerned the source of their guanin (14k gold) jewelry. The Caribbean exploits of Columbus was the biggest story of the era that seemed have captured the imaginations of European novelists of the time. English writer William Shakespeare’s “Tempest” is another example of how Caribbean people and weather phenomenon found their way into his plays. A tempest was the English word for huracan or hurricane. While the monster Caliban was “Cariban”, a Columbus interpretations of a Taíno word for “Strong Men”. Caribales led to canibales which is the source of “cannibal” a practice mistakenly applied to the Kalinago or Island Carib. One cannot underestimate this impact on European minds about the "finding" if a "New" world.

The Spanish novelist’s legend of the fabled La California told of a magical island populated by beautiful black women living like Amazons. They made weapons and tools from gold which was the only metal found on the island. They were protected by flying griffins (a European described half eagle and half lion) that were fed the flesh of any man taken prisoner. The published story in Las Sergas de Espalandian, about a mythical island of women/gold, had strikingly similar elements to a more but recently garnered ancient Taíno story.  The conquistadors in the Caribbean (islands which they also thought was the fabled Atlantis) had, in 1492, learned of a strikingly similar Taíno Origin Myth. The story was that of the hero Guahayona (Gua-ha-yo-na = "Our Pride") and the islands of Matinino ("No Fathers"), and Guanin ("Gold"). In his letter of March, 1493 to the monarchs of Spain, Christopher Columbus wrote of a Taíno island of women which he called "Mateunin" (a version of the Taíno word "Matinino"). On Mateunin the women acted like men and were armed with "bows and darts" and "they protect themselves with sheets of copper, of which there is great abundance among them". Columbus was also told of an island, which he described as larger than Hispaniola "which abounds in gold above all the others." As early as 1492 the lust for Amerindian gold and women had fuelled the Spanish imagination. These myths caused them to risk life and limb trekking through foreboding tropical and subtropical American terrain with the hope for a rich retirement.

The Spanish interest in Caribbean gold was so intense that the Taínos believed that the god of the Spanish was the copper-yellow metal they knew as guanin. In 1495 Columbus, disappointed in the meager gold resources of the Caribbean, had shifted to more aggressive slave trading and the Taínos were his targets. This turn to force against the Taínos backfired when the fist seemingly docile people began sporadic rebellions and attacks on the Spanish forts of Haiti (Hispaniola). The Taínos had been angered by the cruelty of the Spanish in exchange for a civilized welcome. In 1495 Columbus had decided that he should know more about the "Indios" and in early April he had turned to a priest, Fray Ramón Pane (Pan-aye). He directed Pane to live with the Taínos to learn more about them and their strategies since the friar had learned one of the Caribbean languages. Pane was among the clerics, barely tolerated by the Taínos, who came to the Caribbean on Columbus' second voyage. It was from the skeptical Pane, who stayed at cacique (chief) Guarionex's yucaieke (village) in Magua (in Hispaniola), that the following, more in depth portion of the Taíno Origin Myth was recorded.

Guahayona invites the women of Matinino to leave with him in his canoa/canoe.
Detail of "La California" print

The Flight of the Gueyo Women
          He [Guahayona] said to the women, "Leave behind your husbands
          and let us go to other lands and carry off much gueyo" [a green
          chewing tobacco mixed with salty ashes] .
          "Leave your children and let us take only the herb with us
          and later on we shall return for them" 
          Guahayona , OUR PRIDE, left with all the women and went
          searching for other lands.
          He came to Matinino, NO FATHERS, where he soon left
          the women behind, and he went off to another region
          called Guanin. [guanin is Taino 14k gold or copper colored metal]

The Taíno story went on to tell of Guahayona's departure from Guanin in search of other lands and adventures. The women of Matinino were never returned to their husbands, so their children were changed into frogs when they became hungry and began to cry for their mother's breasts. Frogs were therefore revered by the Taíno and their cries were believed to sound like "Toa, Toa" or "Mother, Mother". Traditionally, the crying of frogs announced spring.

Image with symbolism: The goddess, Atabey, virgin mother of Yucahu, god of the life-sustaining yuca tuber and the sea. This image of a golden Atabey is from Puerto Rico. The symbols within the figure's design reveal the story of  the aftermath of  the above Abduction of the Gueyo Women. Since there were no women left on the main island, some famine creatures were seen down by the river. Some men decided to capture them for their own desires. But their bodies were too slippery. One man who had rough hands was able to hold on tho the females. However, they did not have genitalia. The design within Atabey's torso, shows a woodpecker that pecked out a vagina. (See the bird's vulva-like beak). In this way the "creatures" were able to have children, a connection to Atabey's role as the goddess of childbirth and fresh water, that cascades down the mountainsides of the Earth Mother. Moons of the Four Directions are embed ed in the image as she sits in the shape of a frog. The frog is another symbol of the human transition from a water to an air breather, similar to the metamorphosis of a tadpole to a frog. The rectangular panel superimposed over Atabey'.s legs is from an early woodcut illustration of Taino panning for gold with a batea, as seen with the figure to the left, a practice exported to other gold rush areas in the Americas. Although one source said that "batea" is from Arabic, it may instead be from a flat clay field on which the Taino ballgame batu, was played.

This segment of the Guahayona myth seemed to have been told to Columbus on his first voyage since he used key words from it to describe Taíno islands of mythical women/"Amazons" and gold. The myth fueled the cravings (for fame and fortune) by the conquistadors who braved starvation and death to encroach into continental America. Always believing that there were signs that Guanin/El Dorado/the Seven Cities of Cibola was just "around the next cove" or mountain. In the Americas the first sign that Guanin would be "around the next corner" was the sight of the abode of the Amazons or the island of women (Matinino). For Cortés, who had, beginning in 1519, plundered Aztec riches, the sign of even more booty ahead was the sighting of the "Island of La California". From the Sea of Cortés, Baja's eastern coast, rose steeply, just like the impenetrable coast of the mythical island of La California. The Californian myth seemed to have inspired the Spanish in Mexico to send out expeditions in search of gold further north (in an attempt to find the "Seven Cities of Cibola") into the land of the "Pueblo" Indians – or Zuni (see below.)

Other Searches Influenced by the Taíno Origin Myth
The Image of El Dorado, (the gilded man is from the Spanish word "gold" or "gilt") is based partially on truth as well as a myth in Columbia, South America.

El Dorado

Both the search for El Dorado and the European naming of the Amazon River were influenced by the Taino myth of an island of women (Matinino) and an island of solid gold (Guanin). "El Dorado" means "guided man" and is a South American inspired myth about an alleged ruler who was so rich that he covered his body with gold dust each day and washed it off each evening in a lake. During the 16th century El Dorado was believed to have originated among the Chibcha of Bogota, Columbia, in South America. Their chief was reputed to have carried out the above mentioned practice in sacred Lake Guatavita. Expeditions began in 1530 to find El Dorado. In 1536 Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada who founded the city of Bogotá went on an inland expedition to find El Dorado.

Nine months later, starting with 900 men, he found, conquered, and plundered gold and emeralds from the kingdom of Chibcha in Columbia. Beginning in 1569 he spent three more years again searching for El Dorado. He returned to Bogota,  ill with leprosy, where he later died bankrupt. Cervantes is believed to have modeled Don Quixote after Jimenez.

A 1530 Myth Embellished with the Taíno Origin Story

The origin of the story of the Seven Cities (of Cibola) was created from a tale by an enslaved Native American, called Tejo by the Spaniards. In 1530 Nuno de Guzman, President of New Spain (Mexico), owned Tejo, from whom he was told the story of the northern location of a place where his father, a trader, had brought back "a large amount of gold and silver". Tejo, when he was young, had accompanied his father once or twice on trips to the location where "he had seen seven very large towns (which he compared to Mexico and its environs) which had streets of silver workers" Nuno de Guzman mounted an unsuccessful expedition with "nearly 400 Spaniards and 20,000 friendly Indians of New Spain" to find the "Seven Cities". Instead of finding the Seven Cities, Guzman founded the town of Culiacan. After Guzman's return from the expedition Tejo died with the information of the precise location of the Seven Cities.

In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca, three other Spaniards and Esteban (Stephen), an enslaved African, arrived in Culiacan, Mexico after an ill fated 1527-28 Narvaez expedition to Florida. They were the sole survivors of the Navarez expedition and gave "extended account of some powerful villages, four and five stories high, of which they had heard a great deal in countries they had crossed." This account of their overland survival trek from Florida to Mexico seemed to corroborate the earlier story of the Seven Cities . Estaban (who paved the way with the Indians) was then sent with Friar Marcos de Niza and two other friars, on the search for the Seven Cities.  Estaban, with an escort of 60 Indians (including many pretty women and turquoise which the locals had given him) arduously forged north into the territory of the Zuni people of New Mexico. There Estaban met his death at the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh after demanding more women and turquoise from his new guests.

Earlier in 1493, a similar fate befell Columbus' men on their first trip to Ayti Bohio (Haiti on the island of Hispaniola), around 35 years earlier. Not having even entered the pueblo, and fearing for their lives, Marcos de Niza and the other two friars hastily retreated to Culiacan and gave vivid accounts of "treasures". It is from these friars' account that a more embellished version of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola was given. The new version of the Seven Cities included earlier myths "about the South Sea and islands (Taíno?) and other riches". News of the Seven Cities quickly spread in New Spain (Mexico), even from the pulpit, and an armed force of conquest was brought together. Coronado mounted the more organized expedition and attacked Hawikuh in 1540 but found no treasures.

The Amazon

In 1541 the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana set out up the second longest river in the world. He reputedly saw, or was shot at, by some women warriors from the bank of the river. This confirmed his belief that he had also found the mythical Amazons (probably from the fabled island of California, or Matinino). He named the river the Amazon.
What influence did the Taino myths have on the Spanish in the Americas? In evaluating the Taíno myths, if the sequence of Guahayona's travels to Matinino and Guanin was correct, once "Amazons" were sighted gold was not far behind. The story of the Taíno’s mythical islands unwittingly seduced the Spanish in the Caribbean. The myth influenced them and other Eastern Hemisphere peoples to push further west, north and south onto the mainland Americas. They came feverishly in search of greater quantities of gold which they eventually plundered. "Finding" wealthy Chibcha and the rich Inca Empire did prove that behind every myth there is some truth.

Taino returning from the transforming Bimini's "Fountain of Youth",

Bimini, 'Life of the Spring Waters' and the Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de Leon believed a story about a Taino "island" called Bimini. There, he thought, old men would be turned sexually young again by the waters of a spring. Ponce de Leon believed that the Bahamas was the location of Sir John Manderville's published tale of the fabled "Eternal Fountain of Youth". Bimini was the Taino word for North America's Florida peninsula. 
"Bimini" meant [1] "Life of the Spring Waters" and it was part of a Taino myth which Ponce de Leon learned, probably while in Borik'n (Puerto Rico). He set off from Borik'n on a private expedition to search for the mythical Taíno site which seemed to confirm the existence of the European's "Eternal Fountain of Youth."

The Taíno guides who went with him on this failed 1513 expedition spoke of mainland North America where they said that their people also lived. The Poce de Leon expedition traveled on to the nearby peninsula, which he thought was also a Bahaman island, and named it La Florida. This was because his expedition arrived on the mainland during the week of Easter or Pascua Florida (season of flowers). The expected Bimini/La Florida location of the Fountain of Youth was another Castilian (Spanish) misinterpretation of a complicated Taino reference. The Taíno connotation in their myth about "Life of the Spring Waters" (according to Jose Barreiro, author of The Indian Chroniclers)) may have alluded to the rejuvenation of their expanding civilization which was moving further north island by island into Bimini/Florida.

In 1521 Ponce de Leon again sailed for La Florida where he tried to set up a Spanish colony between today's Fort Myers and Tampa. During a skirmish with the the indigenous Calusa, whom the Spanish disrespected, he was mortally wounded by an arrow. Taken back to Cuba he died there of his wounds. Today, although not taken as seriously as it was in the 16th century, the mystique of the Fountain of Youth has continued in contemporary stories, medical jargon and in tourist promotions of the "Sunshine State".